We sink our fingers into the ground to keep ourselves upright, and, bit by bit, the spaces beneath our fingernails fill with grains of sand and small pieces of grass. We notice that they begin to layer. It’s been a long time since we saw each other, too long. Our knees hit the ground as we go uphill. We grab a round rock to keep from falling, and our fingers are scratched. We are told not to go any further and to wait. We wait, but our feet are weak, so we bury the heels of our shoes in the sand to keep our balance and not tumble downwards. We hear a shout: “It’s here!” It was hidden by the brambles. We go towards the entrance of the mine and turn on our cell phone flashlights to see how deep it goes. The old tungsten mine was dismantled at the beginning of the last century, when excavation stopped being productive because of how inaccessible the place is. The highly desired metal, whose etymological origin means “of little value,” has been used widely to produce light bulb filaments and electric resistances since the second half of the 20th century. A fine film of water covers the walls of the mine like a curtain. The ground is spotted with puddles. We follow along one of the passages. Right where the digging ends, an altar has been built over the years from visitors’ offerings. We shine a light on the objects and see a nativity, some drawings, a container with more objects inside, figurines of Disney characters, a piece of burned leather, and various laminated texts. One of them is a list of the names of the people who were there at that time. This hole, now converted into a sanctuary, brought us together and convinced us that it wouldn’t be long until we saw each other again.
This is the place where the works of Irma Álvarez-Laviada, Elvira Amor, Nadia Barkate y Belén Uriel find themselves for the first time. The exhibition Untitled: Álvarez-Laviada, Amor, Barkate, Uriel puts their works in dialog, connects their multiplicities, and is put together the same way as the altar in the mine. In this series of encounters encapsulated by the name Untitled, Galería MPA will show the work of different artists, prioritizing their individualities over the idea of a group exhibition.
The mine is inhabited by beings from Nadia Barkate’s artworks who appear after reciting one of the poems from the altar. Her work understands drawing in an expanded way, combining graphic and sculptural languages, along with photographs that emerge from her personal imaginary. Barkate deals with a unique cosmology that offers familiar images, from Greek mythology’s Medusa’s head (or Japanese mythology’s Nure Onna’s head), dismembered torsos that recall sculptures like Gaddi Torso from the Uffizi Gallery, or sculptures reflecting the wet drapery technique of Atenea Pathenos by Fidias. The way Barkate occupies pictorial space is related to writing, to narrating stories of daily life from her own iconography. The scenes that build her drawings pertain to a strange temporality, making time seem familiar, and yet far away. Her gestures tend towards their own descriptive forms from illustration, fleeing synthesis and prompting the arrival of new fictions. Barkate’s work returns us time and time again to a kind of drawing in which the line is a controlled mistake, one that makes itself part of the process of its own creation.
We first saw the work of Belén Uriel in person was at the exhibition Bonança at the Centro de Arte 2 de Mayo de Móstoles (Madrid), though we’ve followed her work for some time. The exhibition was accompanied by curator Tania Pardo’s text citing Roland Barthes’s 1964 lecture Semiotics of the Object. In it, Barthes affirms: “The paradox that I would like to signal is that these objects that always have, in principal, a utility, a use, we believe that we live with them as pure instruments, when in reality they involve other things, they are also other things […] there’s a sense that outgrows the use of the object.” As with Bonança, here Uriel’s works appropriate the daily object and transform it, generating a game of signs that the spectator actively participates in where the artist throws values from material culture into question. The sculptures on display are mainly made of glass and metal. They show how the form of a trash can lid can suggest a human head, or a flower; the form of a clothes hanger as an idea of the torso; a hanging bottle of water suspended from an aluminum arm; a chair’s armrest; these are specific objects that primarily adapt to the idea of the human body, and whose appearance has been altered. They still permit us to guess at their forms, though they abandon their original uses to give rise to other images in the process.
This predisposition to abandon the original use of an object or material is also found in Irma Álvarez-Laviada’s series S.T (lo necesario y lo posible) / Untitled (what is necessary and what is possible). In it, the artist works with foam, a material whose most common use is as an acoustic or thermal insulator, and as a protector of art objects. We also find this characteristic in works like S.T (Algo que ver, algo que esconder) / Untitled (Something to see, something to hide), in which the artist employs colored graph cardboard as her main material. Álvarez-Laviada inverts the hierarchy of materials that are often pushed to invisibility, placing them instead at center stage in her works. The idea of the void is also a very present question throughout her trajectory (in the artist’s words, “something may not be present, but that doesn’t make it invisible”), and the processes that the objects in the studio pass through. She views the void as an opportunity to build, to dialog with space; the process is like a group of encounters between materials that interact in the studio. Like the altar in the tungsten mine, in Álvarez-Laviada’s work we find a contemporary archaeology that reflects the artist’s work environment.
Two meters from Álvarez-Laviada’s studio, we find Elvira Amor’s. Her pictoric work transports us to the purest kind of abstraction: form, color, unfinished shapes that continue beyond the limits of the canvas until they almost become personal and very mediated objects and genuine colors. Amor’s drawing carries a gestural charge closely related to bodily expression, and seeks to generate its own lexicon and syntax from the elements that make up the work. The curved, imperfect forms in her painting clash with the straight lines of the canvas, which don’t seem able to contain the artist’s created universe. The brushstrokes expand, leaving it to the spectator’s imagination to continue the view, then settle, allowing part of the process to be seen. The artist doesn’t hide anything, despite the smooth, labored surfaces that we find in her art. Amor incorporates a tri dimensionality into her paintings that we also find in her sculptures. These extensions of her painted work are built upon planes of color which generate geometric forms through straight and curved lines, always playing with the observer’s point of view.
We know that the sun is starting to set. We take one last look at the small offerings on the altar and walk towards the entrance, stumbling many times into the puddles on the floor. The light outside starts to look like a small white dot. We emerge from the mine and our eyes slowly adjust to the change in the light. As we retrace our route home, we can’t stop thinking about what we’ve seen, and about the sensations that we experienced in the cave. The altar in the mine, like this exhibition, is a device with its own temporality, and its material appearance varies gradually according to the elements that compose it. It’s a coincidence, bodies that recognize each other, but that, at the same time, are unknown. And, despite building a precise architecture, it allows us to see each of the wishes that we find in it, like the wish that, perhaps, we will see each other soon.
Text by Paula Noya de Blas and Ester Almeda, January 2021
Translated by Lauren Moya Ford